ed. note: so i have been asked to lead opening devotions this morning for cbs (community bible study) which meets on wednesdays at our church. cbs is made up of about 80 women. as i imagine myself standing in front of 80 women, i begin to squirm. that's alot of estrogen in the room for one guy!
to make matters worse, they have been studying the gospel of luke and this week their studies brought them through chapter 16, which i find to be one of the most difficult chapters in the gospels. so, in 10 minutes or less, i have to try and share some of my own reflections on something from luke 16, as they begin their day of community study, and i have to do this for 80 women! a daunting task! here is basically what i'll be saying...
i understand that you have all been reading and studying luke 16 this week, which is a difficult section of scripture. i mean, doesn't Jesus say the strangest things sometimes? i have this love/hate relationship with the stories Jesus tells, you know? he speaks in these parables that are at once simple, profound and nebulous. they are often difficult to relate to and even harder to makes sense of. now i know what a parable is. i know that a parable is a brief story that illustrates a lesson, gives a moral choice, and, as such, leaves us with a question as to how we will respond. but sometimes it is difficult to get to the truth inside the parable.
as i reflected on that this week, i was reminded of another parable i'd like to share with you:
two friends were walking along one day and the younger one said, "friend, i have an unusual food i'd like you to try." but the older friend was resistant to his younger friend's request. so the younger friend, bound and determined, began to turn up at all kinds of places and situations to try and persuade his friend to try this new food. he came to his house, he drove with him to work, he accompanied him on his daily walk, he even turned up on the same train on the way to vacation. night and day he tried to convince his unwilling friend until one day his persistence paid off and his friend finally sampled the strange food, and, much to his surprise, he loved it! he began eating it at home and on his way to work and on his daily walk and even on vacation. let all who have ears, listen.
do you recognize this story? do you know its author? this is my retelling of a story written by a man who is no longer with us but, if he was, he would have celebrated his 104th birthday this last sunday. any ideas? its a story by dr. seuss. and the strange food is of course green eggs and ham. and as silly as the story is, it is a story about persistence. you may not agree that it is a parable, but compare it to a text from luke that you've already studied, luke 11:5-13, when one friend wants some bread and asks for it in the middle of the night. when Jesus explains this parable he says, "and so i tell you, keep on asking and you will receive what you ask for. keep on seeking and you will find. keep on knocking and that door will be opened to you." you see, green eggs and ham can teach us a lesson about persistence if only we are seeking truth in all places.
what about the cat in the hat? you know the story, right? the kids are bored, the cat comes in and makes a major mess, then cleans it up in the nick of time, right before their mother comes in. and, i love this, dr. seuss ends the tale not with a moral platitude but with a parable-like question. here's how it ends:
then our mother came in
and she said to us two,
"did you have any fun?
tell me what did you do?"
and sally and i did not know what to say.
should we tell her
the things that went on there that day?
should we tell her about it?
now what should we do?
what would you do
if your mother asked you?
now as you have been reading the parables of luke chapter 16 this week, i'll be you've discovered that these are some difficult stories. augustine, the great church father, said of the parable of the shrewd manager, "i can't believe that this story came from the lips of our lord!" so good luck studying it today! in all honesty, though, what i would like to offer you today is a reminder that when we look at the parables of Jesus we ought to be looking for the truth they contain. we ought to be, as Jesus said in luke 11, asking, seeking, and knocking to see if we can't find what kind of question these parables leave us with. for me, the question i am left with at the end of green eggs and ham is: am i being a persistent pray-er or am i giving up too easily? the question i am left with at the end of the cat in the hat is: am i being honest with God and others, or am i hiding parts of myself? and the question i am left with at the end of luke 16 is: am i using what i have to benefit others, or just myself?
just as the manager is luke 16 was shrewd - or streetwise - in protecting his earthly future, we ought to be as shrewd about our eternal future. but too often we are like the rich man at the end of the chapter. we use our wealth and our gifts and energy to secure earthly pleasure and comfort and security rather than being (street) wise and shrewd with our resources, investing in an eternal future. in the end, how much would kindness to lazarus have been worth to the rich man?
these are some of my reflections today about these parables and the questions they leave me with. i pray that the Holy Spirit will also move in your hearts as you study, that God might speak to you through the dr. seuss's of the world as well as the dr. lukes. i pray that you would have ears to hear the truth in both platitudes and parables; both where you expect it and where you do not. i pray that you will never stop asking, seeking, and knocking for truth.